Thursday, November 13, 2003

TUMON, Guam — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday he is planning a major restructuring of U.S. forces in Asia and elsewhere to meet changing threats.

The defense secretary told reporters aboard an Air Force KC-10 aircraft on the way here that “we are very systematically reviewing our arrangements in the world.” No final decisions on how the new U.S. military force posture will be structured and based have been made, he said.

“But it’s been a big effort for the United States and it’s something that I believe will undoubtedly take a period of years to complete,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the restructuring will be part of a global adjustment of U.S. forces that will “considerably better position the United States than we have been” since the end of the Cold War.

The defense secretary believes that the static defensive positions implemented by Washington and many of its allies during the Cold War are not well suited to deal with the changing security threats of the 21st century, including terrorism.

In remarks today to troops at Anderson Air Force Base, he reiterated that view while thanking troops for their sacrifice and vigilance.

“It is really a choice between freedom and fear. Free people cannot live in fear,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The terrorists can attack at any time, in any location and it’s not possible to defend everywhere. That’s just not doable.

“The thought that you can just kind of defend against and hide is unfortunately invalid, which is why your country, our country, is … taking the battle to the terrorists.”

During a helicopter tour today of Guam, Mr. Rumsfeld visited the U.S. Navy base, several hundred miles northeast of the Philippines and the base for two Los Angeles-class attack submarines. He also ate lunch with a group of airmen and sailors at Anderson.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s seven-day visit to Asia, his first since becoming defense secretary in January 2001, also will include visits to Japan and South Korea.

The visit comes amid tensions over North Korea’s nuclear arms program, to which Mr. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration is pursuing a diplomatic approach. “That is the path we are on,” he said.

But when asked today about the threat from North Korea, Mr. Rumseld said Pyongyang has a million-troop army, ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, but may be seeing its military strength sapped by its poverty.

“Is it a threat? You bet. It is a danger? You bet,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“It is not a democracy,” he noted, adding that democracies tend to be less warlike.

He called North Korea a “tragedy” because of the repressive communist system.

“It is a country where many of the people starve, many people are trying to leave that country … there are large concentration camps where people are imprisoned.”

The North Korean military recently lowered the height and weight requirements for soldiers because of the starvation around the country made it harder to find qualified recruits, he said.

Also, soldiers appear to be 14 or 15 years old when they join, instead of at least 17 or 18, he said, a sign the military is having trouble.

A U.S. official on the plane to Guam said Pyongyang’s communist regime has been trying to limit the talks to a two-way U.S.-North Korea discussion.

“We have to resist attempts by North Korea to bilateralize it, which continues to this day,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to discuss the repositioning of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea during his visit to Seoul. The U.S. relocation plan calls for pulling back troops farther from the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the end of the Cold War requires changing a “static defense” that successfully deterred the Soviet Union and its allies.

“The Soviet Union is gone and we’re moving worldwide from a static defense to a different footprint, a footprint that recognizes that it’s not possible today to predict with precision where a threat may come from, or exactly what kind of threat it might be,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force’s senior military officer told Reuters news agency yesterday that the United States intends to rotate B/A-22 Raptor fighters, which enter service in 2005, to Guam as part of the increasing U.S. military presence in the Pacific.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide